As one of the most popular shows on television in the late '70s to early '80s, "Happy Days" helped propel many of its cast into the production side of show business. Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Don Most and Anson Williams all achieved recognition behind the camera as producers, directors and/or writers.
Williams played Potsie - a na ve, well-meaning friend to Ron Howard's Richie Cunningham character - and partly credits the show's producer and writer for motivation.
"I had such an education because of Garry Marshall, who inspired us to broaden our horizons," said Williams from Los Angeles.
Later becoming a successful TV director himself, Williams also branched out into the business world. "With my business partner JoAnna Connell, we developed dozens of products which sold on QVC for a decade."
He's especially gratified with a new product, available since June, called Alert Drops - a simple spray that can prevent drowsy drivers from falling asleep behind the wheel. It's estimated that there are thousands of drowsy-driving related fatalities each year across the United States, with many more injuries.
"It's a common but often neglected problem," said Williams. "Just a spray of Alert Drops on the top of the tongue produces a reflex reaction that causes the body to release a burst of adrenaline, and you're instantly awake."
Williams experienced the dangers of drowsy driving back in the late '80s while working on the "Slap Maxwell" series.
"After a rough day directing in the hot Palmdale desert, I was driving home and suddenly found myself bouncing around in the car off the road," he said. "I'd fallen asleep and was extremely lucky I didn't kill myself. It scared the heck out of me."
He later recounted the incident to his 'uncle,' Dr. Henry Heimlich - yes, of the anti-choking Heimlich Maneuver fame.
Dr. Heimlich ("He was actually my second cousin, but I always called him uncle") suggested packing slices of lemon to bite into while driving, to counter drowsiness. "I did that for years, and it worked, but who wants to suck on messy lemons when driving? I called Uncle Hank and asked if the same effect could be achieved by putting the lemon ingredients in a spray bottle. He said that was a brilliant idea."
While the ingredients are listed on William's website (www.alertdrops.com), he said "we did work with a chemist for two years to get the concentrations right. We're saving lives every day, which is very satisfying."
Williams says his time back on "Happy Days" was professionally satisfying, but the show was almost shelved when the pilot was recycled by ABC as an episode of "Love American Style."
"It was actually a pilot first but didn't sell," Williams said. "When 'American Graffiti' came out (in 1973) and was so popular, ABC re-shot another pilot more like 'Graffiti' and changed some of the cast."
Williams was still appearing in "Happy Days" when he was inspired to produce the TV movie, "Skyward" and brought in Ron Howard in one of his earliest directing roles.
"It really started my career behind the camera," said Williams, who remains appreciative for his accomplishments.
"I left home when I was 18 with just $100 and made it into show business," he said. "To get on a hit show like 'Happy Days,' then become a director, and to have an 'uncle' like Dr. Heimlich who inspired me to create a life-saving product - what are the chances of all that happening?"
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns and interviews for more than 650 newspapers and magazines. See www.tinseltowntalks.com